28 April 2019

Left Coast Traveler

A Steely Dan anthology, available June 24, 2019
Old Saying: Getting there is half the fun.

Visiting places like Canada and Mexico used to be so simple. You merely went. To get back, you might have to show a driver's license or a birth certificate and declare what you bought or otherwise acquired in that country, but life was easy. Sure, going to Europe was all passport and customs officials, but that was another continent, another world away, and to be expected.

And then came the Left Coast Crime Conference being held at the end of last March in the nice Canadian port city of Vancouver. Since Canada considers itself to be our trading partner ( as opposed to being some third world country like several islands in the Caribbean), they prefer that we southern cousins spend Canadian currency when we make purchases in their country. After all, we don't accept their money in our country. Fair is fair. Plus, there is a fee to exchange money if it's not that particular country's currency. So, we went to Wells Fargo Bank in advance of our trip and acquired $200 Canadian. Fortunately, most of our expenses could go on our credit card, one which charged no fee for the conversion.

Author book signing for Steely Dan anthology at LCCC
Continuing. The last time we renewed our passports, we forked over the extra $35 each to also get the credit card sized passport which is allegedly valid for Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean islands. We were quickly all packed and ready. Then we found we could not use our home computer to print out our airline tickets. Since our flight was designated as an International flight, we had to show a passport to get our tickets. Okay, so we drove to the airport on the morning of our trip to acquire the tickets and catch our plane.

Law Enforcement Panel at Left Coast Crime Conference
Whoops, the credit card sized passports did not work in the ticket kiosk. They only take the paper booklet passports, which we were just paranoid enough to have with us anyway. Got tickets. Flew to Denver to change planes for the second leg of the journey. In Denver, had to show tickets AND passports in order to board the aircraft. Landed in Vancouver. Beautiful and very modern airport, but had a long walk high in the air to an area where we found machines that read our passports, asked a series of questions and took our photos. The machine then printed out a receipt with our photo on it which we gave to the non-uniform man guarding that area. (NOTE: if you are wearing a hat or glasses, those items must come off for your photo, and again for the man guarding that exit.) We proceeded through a long roped-off maze and descended to the ground transportation exits.

The harbour (their spelling) three blocks from conference hotel
For those of you who have taken a taxi from La Guardia Airport to mid-Manhattan in New York, you already know your life is not your own.. Those drivers all consume quarts of Red Bull and train on dirt tracks somewhere in the Appalachians. Our driver in Vancouver had evidently won several trophies on that same dirt track. We paid him in Canadian dollars, along with a hefty tip, glad to have arrived unscathed. Turned out, it was a $31 Canadian flat fee from airport to our hotel. As the proverb says: Time is Money. I assume that our driver was merely trying to maximize his ratio of dollars per minute. During our running conversation darting through the streets, I also learned he is the one who is teaching his teenage children how to drive so they can get their drivers licenses. I expect there will soon be more racing trophies on the family mantel.

One end of the sea plane docks
The LCC Conference was excellent, many good panels, great people to converse with, much good info acquired, lots of laughs, fine food, nice beer, discovered several local bakeries for pastries and morning coffee, walked down to the harbor sea wall, watched sea planes take off and land, saw the steam clock operate in Gas Town, and had a very great time.

Sunday morning, we caught a cab to the airport. Did better at the ticket kiosk, got tickets and found we were TSA Pre-Approved. Yay! Finally managed to find where they had located the security lines. Could not find the TSA Pre-Approved line. Turns out that TSA Pre-Approved doesn't mean anything in Canada. Nice security man put us in a line anyway which used the metal detector arch, instead of the giant x-ray after which they always want to pat me down for some reason. Can't be my good looks. Got dressed again and walked a long maze to a different passport reading machine area. Inserted passports, answered questions for the machine, took my hat off and it took my photo. Presented my photo receipt and passport to a uniformed guard at the area exit. Told my wife later that I thought the guard had a U.S. Customs badge on his uniform. Turned out, we had gone through U.S. Customs while still in Canada. Walked another long maze to the departure gate. Had to show ticket AND passport to board the aircraft.

Made it home.

Now what do I do with the $20 in Canadian bills, the Toonies, the Loonies and the other coins we didn't spend?

Guess we'll just have to go back to Canada for another writers conference.


  1. Sounds like fun! If a bit complicated!

  2. Ain't traveling fun, these days, R.T.? But then you look kind of suspicious to me ;-) .

  3. Sound like a plot of a Ray Bradbury short story. All you need is a little more conflict and an African veldt. Cool.

  4. From my travel diary of 2016, returning from a trip to Barcelona: Barcelona airport; had to walk to the very end, and then the gate was blocked so they could put us through security again. And there weren’t any seats, bathrooms, or water, so we sat on the floor and waited an hour. 8 hour flight.
    Philadelphia airport; had to walk a mile to customs, pick up our luggage, walk through endless snake-lines to customs, do things on-line at a brand-new kiosk, with no one to help (which was especially hard for a number of people in front of us who, apparently, had never used a computer before), then go to the officer, then walk to where we re-checked our baggage, then went through security again, and then walk to our next gate – almost 2 hours on our feet on hard floors with no water, seats, or toilets. And airport employees yelling at us fairly constantly to hurry up.
    Chicago airport; long walk to get our bags, walk to hotel, and finally collapsed.

    Travel can be such fun.

  5. Jeff: And it used to be so easy. Show your ticket at the gate, walk out on the tarmac and get on the plane

    Paul: It's my face. Most of the people in the criminal world thought I reminded them of someone they knew. By the time they figured it out, it was too late for them.

    O'Neil: It's just the weird world I live in. Now about that African veldt...

    Eve: Oh great, and my wife is pushing for a trip to Europe next year. I can look forward to more of the same travel fun, getting there and getting back.

  6. Europeans, in response to security threats, opened borders amongst EU nations. North America? Naturally we did the opposite. I don't think of Canada as a foreign country, much less of one than say, New Jersey. It still irks me.

    Grumbling aside, I'm glad you had fun, RT.

  7. Have not travelled to Canada since the 90s and it was easy peasy. I hope at least Moosehead is still as good as I remember. After reading your piece (and Rob's) about LCC, sounds like it was well worth the trip. Any Die Behind the Wheel signings planned for LA?

  8. Glad you had a good time R.T. I live only five miles from the Canadian border. I would go to Canada more often except the husband usually doesn't want to go. Last time we went, our daughter & son-in-law were visiting here & rented a van to accommodate his wheelchair. One of the places we went was Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario which is a high-dollar touristy town. Daughter works in Washington, D.C. & knew her boss would be somewhere in Ontario around that time, but surprised him going into an antique shop! I went to Expo 67 in Montreal & a graduation trip to Toronto & didn't have to deal with any of that bureaucracy way back then.

  9. Sorry for your adventures, R.T. Our drive home from Vancouver was eventful, but I will keep hush about them. Pleasure having a beverage with you in BC.

  10. Leigh, I've tended to think of Canada as being a 51st state, they just have a different accent.

    Lawrence, Moosehead is still very tasty. I'm not aware of any further book signings for DIE BEHIND THE WHEEL, but the second anthology in the Steely Dan theme, THE HANGMAN ISN'T HANGING, is supposed to be at the Bouchercon in Dallas.

    Liz, I haven't been to Niagara Falls since I was a teenager and we lived in a rented house in Albany one summer.

    Rob, the travel bureaucracy really wasn't any worse than being back in the Army. People at each station told you what to do, you waited in lines and you learned the value of patience. Besides, it gave me a blog topic that some could relate to, if they've traveled internationally lately. Or it could prepare them, if they hadn't.

  11. It was so great to see you guys there, old friend!

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